Personal Transformation & Surviving the School-to-Prison Pipeline
A note from CFJ: Mr. Goode's story is a compelling one that details his faith, a life of abuse and pain, and then, ultimately, transformation. We are pleased to post Mr. Goode's story as it is one of survival and change and although we are not a religious organization, we appreciate that for many prisoners, their religious beliefs (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Rasta, Buddhist, Wiccan etc.) are central to their personal development, and a way to live with their incarceration, and the paths that brought them there, and also to look for hope and community once they are released.
My name is Richard Goode. I am a 46 year old Christian using my time in prison to grow my spiritual roots deeply by studying the word of God. Through the trials of life I experienced true darkness. However, because of God’s love living in me, I am encouraged to use my broken pieces to help others who have been broken by sickness, drugs, loneliness, or a wounded spirit. As you read my testimony, remember that God intends to break us into pieces, so that He puts us back together again, we will be stronger men and women.
When I first read about love in the Bible, it appeared very alien to me. I was deeply inspired by the selfless grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I grew up in a broken, violent home and didn’t know such a love existed. Needless to say, I was rar from God in those years and a great sinner.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how I got that way: my parents separated for good when I was nine years old. The last memory I have of my earthly father is of him threatening my mother with a rifle as we ran out of our home and into the cold, rainy night in order to escape his rage and uncontrolled drinking. On this terrible night, my 7 year old sister revealed to the family that our father had sexually molested her several times. Instead of supporting our only sister, my brother and I didn’t believe her, and accused her of deliberately trying to break up the family. I just couldn’t believe my father was capable of something so evil, but many years later, I learned that my sister was indeed telling the truth, which caused me to feel a great deal of shame until I was brought back into communion with God.
Alone, and not knowing how to provide for her children, my mother moved us in with her family on my grandfather’s tobacco farm in Chatham, VA. Immediately, the physical abuse stopped for my mother , but a new form of abuse continued. I had always been afraid of my grandfather and uncle. They constantly called me “dumb” or “lazy”. However, I wasn’t lazy, but whenever I was around them I became so nervous and afraid of being hit, that I messed up whatever task they wanted me to do.
My mother knew that I was being abused but she did nothing to stop it. Her lack of protection hurt more than the abuse. During this period in my life, my mother suffered several nervous breakdowns and had to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, whenever my mother had to be hospitalized, her youngest sister became our primary care taker. She deeply resented having to care for her sister’s children. She often mistreated us. For example, all of my mother’s children wet the bed -- maybe because of the horrible things we experienced because of our father. Every morning our aunt would rush into our room and snatch the covers off the bed. If we were wet, she would beat all of us with a stiff piece of wire. Words can’t express the shame I felt living in a house where I wasn’t loved or wanted.
Unfortunately, with everything going on at home I didn’t do very well in school. The school administration wrongly diagnosed my behavioral problems as a learning disability and as a result I was placed in Special Ed classes. I was bullied and made fun of at school and at home I quickly learned that as long as the farm chores were done, nothing much else was expected from me.
Around age 13, my uncle convinced my mother to put me in a home for boys. Although my mother had put her children in foster homes before, it hurt me to my heart that she would give me over to a juvenile facility simply to please my uncle. I felt abandoned and betrayed. I learned that the inside of a cage is a lonely place to be. The walls and steel bars and things like that do not create your prison. It’s the dark feelings you create in your own mind that create your cage. It was at this point in my life that satan filled me with hate. I spent one year inside a cage thinking about my uncle, and how he beat me with a stiff wire, boards, plastic pipes, his fists and anything else in his reach when he was angry.
Way back then, I didn’t know how to deal with someone hurting me. I know now that light is stronger than darkness. If you bring light to a dark space, the darkness immediately leaves so it is with the light of Jesus.
Incarceration changed me. After I got out, I started carrying knives, smoking marijuana heavily, and hanging out with much older people. I dropped out of school to work, and it wasn’t before long that I was sent back to a juvenile facility because my mother couldn’t control me. I was numb to everything and everyone around me while in the juvenile facility, I got into a lot of fights with the other boys. I was introduced to rap music. I began to dress and talk differently. I was ashamed of being a farm boy who lived in a house that didn’t even have running water. I tried to fit in, but the more I fit in, the more I felt isolated and alone.
After several months I escaped from the juvenile facility holding me and eventually ended up living in the streets in a place called Ocean View in Norfolk, VA. Ocean View was nothing more than a strip of hotels, bars, and crack houses that ran parallel with the beach. Ocean View was full of teenage runaways. I met girls as young as 13 years old prostituting themselves for crack or for the love of a pimp. Although I knew the destructive power of crack, I began selling it to survive. I was good a selling crack because I was cold and I didn’t smoke it. The more money that I made, the more indifferent I became to the suffering going on all around me.
It finally took the death of my girlfriend and our unborn child from a crack cocaine overdose to make me realize the hopelessness of being addicted to crack. Nevertheless, at age 17 I was arrested and certified as an adult, and send to prison for the first time for selling crack to an undercover cop. I hit rock bottom in prison. My young spirit yearned to be free. I was young and powerfully built but others my age weren’t as strong. While doing time in a prison called called “Fasm” I witnessed a friend of mine being brutally raped and beaten. Although I did what I could do to stop it, I have always felt that I didn’t do enough. Seeing something like that changed me forever, but it wasn’t until many years later something similar happened to me in prison, that my heart was filled with unforgiveness and my heart of flesh was turned into a heart of stone. But God knew that my heart was a living stone, one that could stand up to pressure and be shaped without shattering from the heat or cold of life.
After 22 months of riots, which seemed like a gladiator’s school, I was given $25 and released from prison. I went back to the city of Norfolk and it wasn’t long before I began selling drugs again. One night I was robbed at gunpoint, but even having an automatic weapon pointed in my face wasn’t enough to get me off the streets. But nearly losing my life over a few hundred dollars caused me to search for another way to support myself. Unfortunately, I gave up selling crack and began robbing people.
When my parole office learned that I was seeking revenge against one of the men who robbed me, he made me leave the Norfolk. A few weeks later, I found myself working in a furniture factory in Martinsville, VA where I met the mother of my daughter. She and I dated and it wasn’t long before she was pregnant. Learning that I would soon become a father again depressed me because I knew that I had already committed two armed robberies. After a short period on the run, I was caught and sent back to prison.
I experienced many bad things in prison and to cope I spent many years in prison smoking marijuana, drinking wine and picking up more time for several malicious woundings and an escape attempt that made the national news in 1996. In 1998 I was sent to Virginia’s supermax prison, Red Onion, where I have spent over 20 years in solitary confinement. In 2013, I was diagnosed with manic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse I suffered in solitary confinement.
There was a lot of evil done to me by a select few correctional officers who consider anyone trying to be a Christian is weak and undeserving of any respectful treatment. I was beaten, sodomized, had bones broken, starved, electrocuted repeatedly, teargassed repeatedly, falsely accused of crimes I didn’t commit in order to cover up this excessive abuse towards me, and isolated for years in solitary confinement and made to feel less than human.
However, God preserved my life through the previously mentioned circumstances and more, but where God was trying to save my life, I didn’t care if I lived or died and my prison record reflected my hopelessness. I was broken, and poised to spend the rest of my life this way, but God had plans for me. One night, after many years of self-destructive behaviors, I gave what was left of my broken life to Jesus Christ. If it weren’t for God’s underlying mercy and impeccable timing, I would be dead. I have often wondered just when God began working in my life on a personal level -- when He began calling me out. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourself, it is in the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” There is no way to fully comprehend or explain God’s favor. All we can do is humbly accept it.
When I was in prison, my fear was that my daughter would continue a cycle of darkness instead of a cycle of renewal. Watching my daughter grow into a woman from behind the wall was a complete torture. However, through lots of prayers, God has continuously blessed my daughter. In 2016 she graduated from ODU in Norfolk, VA. God also gave me the knowledge to go back to school and get my GED, despite being barely able to read and write when I first entered prison. God has also blessed me with a love for writing Christian and classical poetry. I have completed several Bible courses, all available prison programs, and I am currently enrolled at the International Christian College located in Orlando, FL. My goal is to earn an associates degree in Christian counseling and then use that knowledge to stop people from coming to prison.
After 25.5 years in prison, I could be free via “parole” as soon as June, 2020. However, this will take a lot of prayers and support from the faithfull. I long for good friends who believe they can be a light of hope in someone’s life who comes from a dark past. I want friends I can learn from, and who God can use to encourage me in his purpose as I prepare to reenter society.
Although God wants us to to turn to Him in times of trouble, He also knows that we need each other to lean on during the storm of life. We cannot always remove each other’s heavy burdens but we can share each other’s experiences by listening, visiting, praying, writing encouraging letters, and give the love we all need. Thank you for listening to my story.
If you would like to be my friend, study partner, or encouragement in the Lord, Please write to me:
Richard Goode #1164436
Red Onion State Prison
PO Box 1900
Pound, VA 24279